Darius Miles, Cap Space, E-mails, Oh My!

January, 9, 2009
1/09/09
12:20
PM ET

This Darius Miles situation is a mess.

Before we get to talking about threatening e-mails and all that, let's back up for a minute, and all agree on one thing: Darius Miles is not, and should not be, medically retired.

Portland's claim, supported by an independent doctor, that they should get salary cap relief for his career-ending injuries was a mistake. And now there's a 27-year-old who demonstrably would like to play basketball for a living. The Collective Bargaining Agreement's standard for assessing when a medical retirement was a mistake appears to have been a good one. Even before ten games are up, it's pretty clear.

Darius Miles
Darius Miles' knees may be hidden, but they appear to be working.
(Photo by Joe Murphy/NBAE via Getty Images)

No, it's not obvious that he's one of the 300 or so best players in the world who get NBA roster spots. I'm not a fine enough judge of talent to declare that. But it is crystal clear that he's one of the thousand or so professional players who are in that mix. Europe, the D-League, the NBA ... he belongs in there somewhere. His body is still suited to running and jumping. He's a professional basketball player.

I just watched video of all of his regular season minutes. From the January 6 Grizzles vs. Timberwolves game, we can learn that anyone who tells you he's permanently broken is blatantly wrong.

  • Ask Randy Foye. He had a nice path to the hoop on the secondary break, and Miles swooped across the lane, and skied to block it.
  • Ask Kevin Love. Miles was isolated on the right wing against the Minnesota rookie. Miles beat him to the rim off the dribble. Miles didn't get the bucket. He seemed to be lacking explosion -- but in that he joins many post-surgical NBA players.
  • Ask Al Jefferson. Jefferson is one of the deadliest post scorers in the game. Miles, beefier now, guarded him solo in the post, and came up with the block. But for a foot on the baseline, he would have come up with the loose ball and started the break, too.
  • Ask Mike Conley, who noticed too late, at one point, that Miles had beaten everybody down the floor and just needed the ball to complete an easy layup.

Now, as to the Blazers' reported threat to teams about signing Miles for the wrong reasons. ... One key point is that the letter does not threaten to sue any team that signs Miles. Instead, it's a threat to sue any team that signs Miles for the purposes of hurting Portland.

Very glad I'm not the person who has to distinguish the one from the other. But there is a difference there. 

In essence, they're saying that whole "hey, why don't we just sign him and stick Portland with cap trouble" approach is not in keeping with the Collective Bargaining Agreement. 

On the other hand, I have heard from all kinds of lawyers. Including many who are Portland fans. They all agree that judges never like it when people are kept from work. And if a team does not hire Darius because of this e-mail, there is no shortage of lawyers who would happily take up the player's case in a suit against the Trail Blazers.

But I'll bet my eye teeth it'll never matter. Darius Miles will, I suggest, be signed by someone, and he will play two more games. That will legitimately end his medical retirement, and the Blazers will lose a big chunk of cap room to sign a free agent next summer. Life will march on, perhaps over the protests of the Portland front office.

In the meantime, a bundle of thoughts:

  • A less discussed motivation for a team to sign Miles, as reported by ESPN's John Hollinger a couple of times: "Portland would be forced to put $9 million back on its salary books if Miles plays at least 10 games. That would result in Portland exceeding the luxury tax by $7.9 million, and the money is split 30 ways among the teams." That means every team under the tax would get 263,333 of Paul Allen's money if this happens. Not earth shattering, but also nothing to sneeze at in hard financial times.
  • Portland must have some hot plans for that cap money. While you can make a strong case that the team is in good shape either way (they have one of the best expiring contracts in the business, in Raef LaFrentz, to package with young talent, which could get you something magnificent in a bad economy) this e-mail is a bold move.
  • Haven't yet heard from anybody who thinks this makes the Blazers more likable. At some point, the P.R. war will matter. By doing this, the Miles camp has an easier time making the case the Blazers' front office was always hell-bent on getting this cap space.
  • The Players Association would be a natural entity to get upset about this, and they have lawyers. Presumably we'll be hearing from them soon. ESPN's Chris Sheridan reports the union is in talks with the league, and Miles' agent, today.
  • BlazersEdge discusses a theory that this could be setting up a future Portland complaint (to the League? to a judge?) that Miles' next contract will have been made in bad faith.
  • There could theoretically be legal action stemming from some aspect of Darius Miles' situation (the player vs. the team, the Players Association vs. the team, somebody vs. the doctor, the insurance company vs. somebody ...) but the underlying threat of this e-mail rings a bit hollow. Would one team really sue another over signing this or that benchwarmer? Would it come to that? I have a feeling the League, with its legal savvy and near-infinite authority in team issues, would shut down that legal circus before they could even get the tents set up.

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